The brightest story in the news this week was Tuesday’s decision by a federal jury to award Denise Carey $67,000 in her civil rights suit against Wilkes-Barre and Mayor Tom Leighton.
And in that same report came the most disappointing one: The city will appeal.
Carey’s victory was not as much a personal triumph as a reassurance to every citizen – and not just those who live in Wilkes-Barre – that freedom of speech is alive and well in America.
And, Tom Leighton may not realize it now, but it was a victory for him as well. Because when he decides to leave City Hall -- whether he moves on to another public position or returns to private life – he’s going to have his opinion about what the next mayor is doing. And he’s going to be looking at it from a vantage point that few others have – through the eyes of someone who has been there.
And he’ll want to speak out. And he should.
And Tom Leighton, like the rest of us, should feel comfortable knowing we can fight City Hall and, win or lose, City Hall will not strike back.
More than anything, I hope Mayor Leighton reconsiders his plan to appeal the decision.
Sure, $67,000 is a lot of money but the damage that could result from continuing to fight this futile effort could be much worse.
Even if an appellate court somewhere down the road ruled in favor of Wilkes-Barre, it would be a hollow victory.
Move on, Tom, and get back to working on next year’s budget and concentrating on big projects like the Coal Street Park renovation and the intermodal transportation hub.
Keep an eye on the small stuff, too, because those things go a long way in building a community: yesterday’s Christmas parade, the wonderful holiday plans for the city such as strolling carolers, fresh-roasted nuts and Christmas tree sales.
The greatest moral of this four-year-old story is that it takes a thick skin, passion and persistence to play either role – whether you are City Hall or whether you’re the individual who is fighting it.
I’m sure there were many times when Denise Carey felt like giving up and wondered if the effort was worth the personal anguish and aggravation. Thankfully for us, she never threw in the towel.
I’m sure that Mayor Leighton felt a bit put off by Carey’s persistence. I’m sure he felt comfortable with his proposal to close the Heights fire station – the move that started the whole controversy.
After all, he was looking at the issue from a unique perspective: He had all of the studies in front of him that indicated response time to fire calls and he had the details as far as what the city could afford.
He may have even felt a bit indignant or even insulted that someone would challenge his decision so fervently.
And that’s where many elected officials make mistakes – when they refuse to see that an ordinary citizen cares as much about his or her community as they do. Or when they erroneously assume that they always know what’s best for the rest of us. Or when they refuse to listen to other viewpoints whether they are coming from a taxpayer or a political rival.